Kenosha, Wisconsin, is your hometown

Published 6:59 pm Tuesday, September 8, 2020

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Most people will remember Bruce Springsteen’s iconic album “Born In The USA” for the title song, or “Glory Days,” “I’m on Fire,” or “Dancing in the Dark.” But one of the best from there is “My Hometown.” It’s a tale about a lot of places in America, including Kenosha, Wisconsin.

I know about Kenosha, because it’s my father’s hometown, where he was born and lived for so many years. Many of his relatives still reside there. I’ve been there for weddings, family get-togethers, holidays, and know that place well.

Kenosha’s in the news these days, from Jacob Blake allegedly getting shot in the back seven times during an arrest to the kid from out of state allegedly gunning down several protesters, to two militiamen from Missouri being arrested there, allegedly with a large cache of illegal guns.

Springsteen knew about that kind of town. His song starts with a dad taking his son around in a big American-made car, telling him “This is your hometown.”

Times change, with racial tensions, gun violence, closed-down factories, jobs going away, and people leaving as well, with the new father telling his own young son of their troubled town: “This is your hometown.”

Kenosha’s like that. The family farm where my dad was raised is no more. Neither is the large American Motors Company plant, shut down decades ago. The company never really recovered from cheap gas disappearing. Those muscle cars just couldn’t keep up with fuel-efficient rivals.

The town claims to have recovered from those days. Now it’s a bedroom community of sorts. There’s a lot to do there today, with fancy condos replacing the warehouses and manufacturing plants, and no shortage of restaurants, parks, museums (like the Civil War museum, a growing Northern trend). Many folks are employed…elsewhere. They drive up to Milwaukee where I was born, or down to Chicago to work. Many of the neighborhoods of European immigrants who came over the 1800s and early 1900s just haven’t kept pace, as manufacturing left town.

Why am I telling you this? I thought you’d like to know about Kenosha. You probably know a place or two like it in your state, which is why so many from out of state came to Kenosha. Republicans blame foreign competition and trade deals while for Democrats blame corporate raiders and greed.

The end result is a lot of folks caught in the middle, trying to navigate the new economy, worried that their hometown will be the fate of Springsteen’s hometown, or Kenosha.

It leads to racial tension, gun violence and intimidation, as folks seek to control what they can with what they have. Social media calls for militia and sensationalistic reporting amplifies the outcomes further. A whole protest with most speakers and Blake’s family begging for unity was pushed from the headlines by a divisive quote that got attention, perhaps the wrong type.

I once asked Freedom Rider Hank Thomas what I should do, as a writer. “Report the truth,” he responded. He told me of a school initiative he was involved in where a record number of African-Americans had graduated from the ROTC program. Media invites went unanswered.

But reporters returned when they heard the false rumor that there would be a gang fight.

There’s a lot of clickbait headlines and attack lines related to Kenosha that I could have typed up. But I owe it to a Civil Rights icon to put aside lurid headlines and story angles in favor of what’s real: that we all know a Kenosha.

The sooner we heal these troubled towns, the faster we save America from opportunistic politicians and a new media mania that eggs on this conflict.